I was recently having a conversation with an old college friend over dinner about our career choices and paths. As a brilliant engineer, she expectedly has little-to-no involvement in the communications arena day-to-day—just as the idea of building and maintaining mechanical systems is absolutely foreign to me.
She talked about the words or phrases that emerge when she thinks Public Relations (PR). Press releases, “putting your message out there,” and the dreaded “spin” came to mind from her – albeit innocent and somewhat tongue-in-cheek—vantage point. *Cue single tear rolling down my face. It’s a conversation I’ve had more than once with family, friends, strangers and even clients about PR, its value and what it is us PR pros really do.
And don’t get me wrong: these folks aren’t necessarily wrong or being all-together unfair in their perspectives. PR can be viewed through the lens of getting your message out there, or more unfortunately, as spin—especially when your goals and approach don’t align with those of the audiences you’re talking to. Press releases also have their time and place as an important tactical communications component surrounding a key announcement, event or initiative.
But in today’s world, declining trust + the explosion of social media and digital technology + the emergence of the 24/7 news cycle + millions of engaged consumers with higher-than-ever expectations of institutions and brands = a communications landscape forever changed.
Just as our world has changed, we must also change the way we think about PR and how we engage with the world. A one-size-fits-all “get the message out” approach to the 2018 sophisticated consumer just isn’t enough. A thoughtful, comprehensive and successful public relations strategy today must center around relationships.
At their core, relationships are built on two imperatives: shared interests and value. And if we approach our holistic communications programs from this frame, effective PR is really about contributing meaningfully to the lives of others in a distinct way that understands what they need.
Consider the following for developing a public relations strategy and activities built on a relationship-centric foundation:
Know your organization, inside and out.
Many years ago, a smart person named Socrates once said: “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” As we get to know ourselves, both our strengths and weaknesses, we increase our ability to relate to others.
Crafting a communications strategy informed by research is key and involves both careful internal and external examination. It means knowing and understanding the global environment and your organization’s value proposition and voice in it. It means having a constant read on your audience’s seemingly ever-changing behaviors, needs/wants and goals—and balancing your own organization’s goals and approach with those of your consumer. It means meeting people where they are and engaging with them in an authentic way that both “keeps it real” for your organization while also understanding your audience’s motivators and values.
From brand perception surveys and focus groups to social listening tools, ongoing analytics, and good ole’ fashioned desktop research, these activities (and more) help inform your ongoing PR strategy, relationship approach and ongoing effectiveness of your efforts. Knowing who you are as well as understanding the needs and challenges of your audience sets the stage for authentic and impactful communications.
Operate through the trust lens.
In today’s communications landscape, everyone’s talking about that magic word—TRUST. But what does trust really accomplish for an organization and brand? I’ve heard on more than one occasion that trust is a “soft or squishy measure.” But I’d actually say the opposite: trust drives an organization’s reputation and is directly correlated to business performance.
Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer study looks at the behaviors people take when they trust a company. They buy, they recommend, they defend.
Does my organization engage through a trust lens? Ask yourself these key questions:
A strong reputation driven by building a bank of trust every day is a competitive advantage that can drive brand awareness and loyalty, acquisition, market standing and revenue.
Engage in meaningful ways.
Are corporations people? I’m definitely not getting into that debate, but there’s no doubt organizations can benefit from a more human approach. As an organization, everything you do tells the story of who you are, not just marketing content or paid ads. Every touch point provides the opportunity to develop a relationship with the people you come in contact with.
But you’ve got to be in it for the long haul. Beyond establishing relationships with consumers, media and other key stakeholders—you’ve got to take the time to nurture and grow these relationships. To nurture honest and long-lasting relationships, think through the following:
On the Spin Sucks blog, Cassie Gonsalez has some great, real-world advice for authentic relationship building and nurturing with journalists, but many of these tips also apply to relationships across the board. Say “hi” and “thank you,” provide relevancy and value in the content you share, don’t always look to “get” something out of it, take the time to friend/follow and thoughtfully engage on social media—or (gasp!) even in real life.
In this online and automation-obsessed world, we sometimes just want (and need) to talk to a real person. Taking the time to make a phone call instead of an email, showing up at or hosting a key event, hand-writing that thank-you note—with relationships, the “little things” and personal touches can mean a lot.
Just like you can’t automate relationships, you also can’t fake genuineness and authenticity. Consumers are savvy and have high expectations of the organizations and brands they choose to engage with. Beyond a product or service, it’s a company’s passion that builds a deep emotional connection. And this can be fostered through personal, meaningful, and relevant content.
The Always #LikeaGirl campaign—winning an Emmy, a Cannes Grand Prix award and the Grand Clio award—is a great example of this. Rather than solely talking about the product, they highlight an important topic that resonates and truly connects with their target audience: the decline in girls’ confidence during puberty. Always is on a mission to champion and empower girls and women, and their authenticity is brought to life via outtakes of those featured in the video who truly believe in the message and its power.
Consumer ahead of conversions
With 269 billion emails sent daily and 1 billion hours watching YouTube videos every day, breaking through the noise and content clutter can prove challenging to say the least. In this world where we all have access to a vast library of 24/7, on-demand content, strong relationships can be the key differentiator to driving consistent conversions.
For example, organizations can offer something of value for free with no strings attached. It can be an eBook, a resource guide or even a free taco (yum!) but this “give without asking for something,” consumer-first approach can plant the seed for a lasting and genuine relationship based on trust—with consumers choosing to come back to you time and time again.
Activities can help you stand out in a moment. Relationships built-to-last drive loyalty. Humanizing your brand, building trust and creating real and lasting connections with your audience isn’t easy – but the good news is, we’re all humans who live and work with other humans every day. Treat your audiences as you’d want to be treated, and that’s a great start.
Much like an engineer, PR professionals help to both build the strategic blueprint as well as ensure that relationships are at the heart of every moving part (media, messaging, content of all types, events, social media, and more!), driving success and growth for an organization. We are strategic problem solvers. We are storytellers. And at our core, we are relationship navigators.